Think of Jesus: he urged his followers to turn enemies into neighbors (Matt. 5:43-48). Think of Paul: he urged the Strong and the Weak to lay down their demands on the others in order to become peacemakers among the Christians in Rome (Rom. 14-15). And to the Colossians Paul said, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 3:15). The term he uses for “rule” could be “let peace be the umpire.”
In his excellent new book, Disarming the Church Eric Seibert discusses in accessible prose five elements of a peace-making mindset. Which is to say, a worldview and an approach to life that seeks peace.
What are the elements of a situation when peace becomes the ruling umpire? When peace is given the last word?
See Each Person as Created in God’s Image
Precisely what it means to be created in God’s image has been a matter of considerable debate, but surely it says something marvelous about the value and significance of human beings. It suggests we have the capacity to reflect God-likeness more than anything else in the world, and it reminds us that we are of great worth to God. This insight alone encourages us to treat others with great care and respect, lest we harm that which is precious to God.
I am especially fond of the way Richard Mouw articulates this in his book Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.
Every human being is a work of divine art. God has crafted each of us; we are all “special creations.” Even when we have rebelled against God and distorted his handiwork in our lives, he continues to love us—much as an artist loves something which she has worked on lovingly, even when it has been severely damaged, can learn a lot about how to treat an unlikable person with reverence if I keep reminding myself of the value the person has in the eyes of God.
Humanize, Rather than Demonize, Others (Especially Your Adversaries)
Our natural tendency is to demonize those we dislike. This is evident in the way we think about them, talk about them, and behave toward them. In fact, we are often unable to see (or say) anything good about them. We focus on—and often magnify—their undesirable qualities. We are so intensely fixated on their negative characteristics that we are virtually blind to other qualities they possess that are much more commendable.10 We often do this unthinkingly, without realizing it. But if we are not careful, we end up vilifying others, viewing them as monsters who are inherently evil and barely human. This tremendously complicates our efforts to love them and live nonviolently toward them.
Get to Know the “Other”But how does this happen, practically speaking? What can you do to get to know the “Other”? One thing you might do is travel internationally, like Jim Forest, and make friends with people whose lives are very different from your own. Or, staying closer to home, you might consider inviting a colleague or co-worker who sees the world radically differently than you out to lunch. Take time to ask about their family, their hobbies, their hopes and dreams, their fears. Try to discover things about them you actually appreciate. If you find it difficult to love people whose skin color, sexual orientation, or ethnicity differs from your own, actively look for opportunities to interact with them. Listen to their stories. Learn about their lives. See them for the beautifully complex people they really are—not the shallow stereotype we often construct.
Meet the Needs of Your Adversaries
Paul instructs Christians in Rome to behave differently toward their enemies by treating them with kindness and compassion: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Rom 12:20). Notice that in this instance, providing food and drink is not regarded as just some random act of kindness (not that there would be anything wrong with that). Rather, it is a specific act of kindness in response to a particular need. Whenever possible, Christians should take concrete steps to meet the real needs of their enemies. Doing so enhances our ability to cultivate a nonviolent mind-set.
Pray for Gods Help and Pray for Your Enemies
Praying for our enemies also keeps us from plotting evil against them. It is difficult to ask God to bless someone one day, then plan to harm them the next. Moreover, if we happen to meet our enemy after praying for them, chances are we will respond more positively and graciously to them than we would have otherwise.
What Eric Seibert’s book does is expose our soul to ourselves. The question is, Do we want to be at peace with others? Do we want to cover things up? Hope things will go away? Expect time to take the issues away? Or do we want to tell the truth and in the truth seek peace?